OutbreakCOVID-19 and Chicago


COVID-19 Cases Hit Chicago's Disadvantaged Communities Hardest

By Nicole Sroka |  @RedLineProject | Posted: Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020


A city infamously known for its segregated neighborhoods, Chicago currently harbors COVID-19 hotspots in predominantly socially disadvantaged communities.

Cook County recently surpassed over 300,000 confirmed coronavirus cases. As of October 18, Chicago has 89,392 positive cases with a significant spike in the number of neighborhood cases, predominantly those on the city’s South and West sides.

Certain Chicago communities are being disproportionately affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. These communities are mainly occupied by minority groups and people of color.

According to the City of Chicago Data portal, the ZIP codes with the most COVID-19 cases as of Oct. 18 are 60609 (New City), 60623 (South Lawndale), 60629 (Chicago Lawn), 60632 (Brighton Park) and 60634 (Belmont Cragin). 

City data also show more positive coronavirus cases in Chicago amongs Latino and Black residents compared to whites: 34,401 cases were Latino, 18,758 Black and 13,450 white. 

COVID-19 DashboardImpact on Communities by ZIP code

Environmental racism refers to the concept of injustice particular communities –– notably those of color –– face in the realm of environmentalism. Certain communities are more prone to being exposed to hazardous materials or pollutants.

According to Dr. Adrienne Massanari, an associate professor of communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago, environmental racism potentially translates to disparate impact of COVID-19 on certain neighborhoods.

“I would say you could just pull up a map and look at just industry [locations where industry is prevalent]” she said. “You'll notice that it is disproportionately located on the South and West sides of Chicago.”

Massanari said the largely segregated sectors of the city, such as Little Village and Calumet Heights, are more likely to be surrounded by industrial polluters, like factories or mills, which can result in astounding health disparities.

“It's an issue of justice,” she said. “I think these issues are really reflective of larger societal inequities.”

This issue of environmental racism within the city correlates to the idea of social disorganization, inadequate funding and a lack of resources provided to particular neighborhoods.

In May, the Chicago Tribune reported how Illinois lawmakers failed to fund a $1.1 billion initiative that aimed to establish community health centers, clinics and at least one hospital on Chicago’s South Side. 

Communities on the West and South sides are locations regarded as “ medical deserts”, where inhabitants do not have adequate access to medical facilities. Families who live in these neighborhoods do not have immediate access to locations that cater to their medical needs.

Chicago Lawn, a community on Chicago’s Southwest Side, is the neighborhood with the highest total confirmed coronavirus cases with 96,546 individuals testing positive since the beginning of the pandemic in early March. 

Neighboring communities South Lawndale and Brighton Park also had spikes in COVID-19 cases, with 90,288 and 87,076 total cases, respectively.

On the Northwest Side, Belmont Cragin is also a COVID hotspot with a total of 92,184 confirmed cases.

The South Lawndale and South Shore are the leading communities with the highest total COVID-19 deaths: South Lawndale has 3,439 total deaths and South Shore has 2,953.

The communities with disproportionately high cases and deaths share one thing in common: They are inhabited by minority groups, particularly Black and Latino.

Ofelia Olvera-Auburn has worked as an occupational therapist for 35 years and has worked numerous fields ranging from pediatrics to home care. At the beginning of the pandemic, Olvera was given the opportunity to work as a PPE educator at a local hospital through AMITA Health.

PPE, personal protective equipment, educators ensure that everyone who works and enters a unit is correctly signed in and follows safety protocol.

“There was a sequence of how to come out, how to take gloves off, wash hands, what not to touch, what to touch, those kinds of things,” Olvera said. “That was difficult, you know, cause a lot of people weren't really prepared for that.”

When discussing which populations have been predominantly affected by the pandemic, Olvera mentioned she has noticed a dramatic spike in the number of cases in lower income areas which are inhabited by minority groups.

 “A lot of the minorities in terms of the Latin community, the Hispanic community [are affected] due to a lack of awareness, the lack of knowledge and language barrier being an issue” she said.

Olvera said culture has a role in recent COVID spikes and how it can disproportionately affect particular groups of people. For example, some cultures value familial relationship and closeness which results in numerous family members living together in one home.

“There's a lot of cultures who have big family units that live with each other,” she said. “You know [it increases chances of] big [coronavirus] exposure.” 

An article published by the Harvard Medical School emphasized the relationship between an individual's socioeconomic status and their likelihood to become affected by COVID-19. One’s socioeconomic status in the US is regarded to be “inextricably linked with race and ethnicity.”

Other socioeconomic factors –– housing, annual income and insurance –– contribute to why some are unable to receive the proper medical care they need.

Małgorzata Łyszczarczyk, a nursing school student and certified nursing assistant, emphasized the importance of neighborhoods having immediate and cost-efficient access to medical facilities, as the lack of resources may contribute to one contracting the virus.

“I think it comes down to the lack of resources,” she said. “Having proper medical facilities that can be offered to people at a cheaper cost if they’re not insured, having [access to] masks, having test sites.”

ABC 7 Chicago reported in April that expenses could affect a person if they are treated or tested for the coronavirus. A Matteson man was ordered to pay $1,959 in hospital bills after taking a COVD-19 test, as mentioned in the article. 

Costs of care associated with the coronavirus can potentially deter people from getting tested or receiving treatment if they contract the virus which can potentially increase the number of cases if someone is an unknown carrier.

“They're going to not want to seek medical attention,” Łyszczarczyk said. “Care won't be denied, you will get care, but obviously the cost of that care is what is putting people off to want to seek that proper medical attention that they need.”

Most Chicago communities that are currently facing high coronavirus case rates have annual income rates that are below $50,000. Evidently, there is a correlation between low income levels and COVID-19 cases in disadvantaged communities.

A research article published in July there is a linkage between COVID-19 infections, deaths and poverty stricken neighborhoods. Non-white or more ethnically diverse populations expierieced higher coronovirus incidents compared to predominantly white communities.

The coronavirus outbreak has affected the daily routines of millions of people ranging from students to medical professionals. 

A new sense of normalcy has been established amongst the human population. Wearing masks, practicing social distancing and an increased reliance on technology have become the new normal.

Marginalized communities –– poverty stricken neighborhoods inhabited primarily by minority groups –– in Chicago continue to be at the center of the coronavirus outbreak. This disparity in cases contributes to pre-existing socio-economic issues that plague particular communities.

In order to effectively combat this pandemic, Olvera stresses the need for people to continue wearing masks and practicing means of social distancing.

“Our economy is hurting, people are hurting, but truly I think we need to wear masks,” she said. “I do want everything to open up slowly, you know. But at the same time it's like, can we nip this in the butt?”

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